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Your opinion on a diner/server incident

A solo diner goes into a restaurant without a reservation (before 6:00) and asks for a table for 4. She sits alone for 20 minutes, during which time several servers come by (one at a time) to ask if she wants to order anything ("perhaps an appetizer ?"). She declines each time, saying she is waiting for her friends. She also indicates that she doesn't know when or if they will arrive. Eventually, one server tells her that because of the reservations for the evening, they will need the table at 7:30, and as a result, the last time to put in an order will be 7:00. The diner replies that if her friends have not arrived by 7:30 (not 7:00), she will leave without ordering, and that she does not intend to order anything unless her friends arrive. The servers stop coming to her table.

The restaurant is heavily booked, and although there are numerous empty tables at the time, they are likely meant for reservations. In the meantime, a couple parties of 3 or 4, also without reservations, are waiting for a table to open.

What are your opinions on
[1] the diner holding the table with potentially no order
[2] the servers repeatedly asking the diner to order ?

My husband and I witnessed this recently (it was impossible not to), and we had completely opposite takes on this.

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  1. Things to note :

    - She should have been warned when she should leave the table (because of another reservation)
    - If she does not know IF they will come, the she should leave the table and wait at the bar (if available or take a walk around the block).
    - The maitre d'hotel/manager should boot her out of the restaurant because she's holding the table without eating/drinking just because maybe ...

    The client in that case is in the wrong.

    1 Reply
    1. While I usually dislike the rule of "The party will not be seated until half/all members are present" it could have been put to good use here.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Lixer

        I agree with both you and Maximilien. That client should not be holding a table that long!

      2. Seriously. Nobody had a mobile phone or offered one so the arrival could be confirmed?

        What happened? She just sat there for 90 minutes, not eating, not drinking, not reading, not checking email.. Staring? Like some homeless person?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cathy

          Seriously. There was no phone in the entire place?

        2. So did the other three people show up? How's the story end?

          Here's my take - First off if it was busy, the staff shouldn't have seated her without the rest of the people in her party there. If you ask for a table for four in a crowded restaurant without a reservation, most places will "offer" you a seat at the bar to wait. This was the restaurants error. That being said, the woman had some set not to at least order a drink. If the woman was a decent person, after 10-15 minutes, she would have got up and called her friends, telling them she had to give up the table and ask where the heck they were. Odd story, odd reactions on both ends.

          1. Additional details:

            [1] There was no bar.
            [2] The woman appeared to have no phone.
            [3] She was occasionally reading the menu.
            [4] Her 2 friends arrived around 6:40, and they ordered.
            [5] The restaurant was practically deserted at 6:00, and about half full at 7:00. It's the type of place where people start showing up around 7:00, and stay a long time after that.

            Maximilien, what would have been the appropriate time for the restaurant to inform the diner about the reservation ? When she was originally seated ?

            I've been in a party that arrived early in the evening without reservations, and were seated at a table meant for a late reservation. We wound up ordering so much that we "overran" our time, and into the reservation's time (which we were never informed of). While the staff never tried to pressure us, due to the layout of the room, we could see that they were frantically trying to figure out what to do. (This was in the type of place where a reservation meant you had the table for the whole night, which implied there should be no wait when you arrive.) Had we known about the reservation time, we probably would have planned our order a bit. But it was one of those places where they don't like to bother the guests like that.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dump123456789

              "Maximilien, what would have been the appropriate time for the restaurant to inform the diner about the reservation ? When she was originally seated ?"

              No, before, when the waiter checks what tables are available ... it usually goes like this :

              "We have a free table right now but there is a reservation at 19:30 is ok for you and your party ?"

              if yes, then there's an implicit social contract between the client and the restaurant saying that the client should order soon after being seated and the restaurant should serve the client as fast as possible (without rushing for the sake of rushing).

              If the client does not order within the first 30 minutes, I think it good manners for the waiter to try to get he client to order while reminding them of the later reservation and good manners for the client to re-think his position and either leave or order.


            2. "the woman had some set not to at least order a drink. If the woman was a decent person, after 10-15 minutes, she would have got up and called her friends, telling them she had to give up the table and ask where the heck they were."


              1. Without reading ANY responses yet, I don't think the restaurant should have seated said single diner until her friends got there. I think this is a good use of the maxim "no one in the party shall not be seated until all are in the restaurant" that many restaurants use now.

                I'm quite astonished at the diner saying she didn't know when or IF her friends would even be there. She never should have asked for the table in that case, waiting for them in an anteroom or outside. Nor should the servers have continually asked her to order.

                But it goes back to - the diner shouldn't have been seated. But they did. But perhaps when she said she didn't know WHEN or IF they'd arrive, the restaurant should have asked her to relinquish the table until they got there. She took up a table for nothing. I think the restaurant had the right to do just that.

                1. Quite rude on the diner's part, I'm going to say. You get a table IF and WHEN you are going to eat, not if you may or may not be eating at some undefinable time in the future. If you want to sit and stare into space while waiting for friends that may or may not show up, do it on a park bench.

                  1. So what were your and your husband's polar opposite reactions?

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: ricepad

                      That's what I've been waiting to read as well!

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        I deliberately omitted that because I wanted to make my wording as neutral as possible for the original post.

                        One of us felt the diner was completely in the wrong, and that she should have relinquished the table after 15 minutes.

                        The other felt that the restaurant was in the wrong because, given the level of the place (average tab per person ~ $35 before drinks/tax/tip), once they seated her, it was inappropriate of them to keep asking her every 5 minutes if she was going to order anything. One inquiry, and one reminder 20 minutes later, should have been enough. (The diner was seated at the table closest to the server's station, so she would have had no difficulty flagging a server if she wanted to order something.)

                        1. re: dump123456789

                          No, I knew you were omitting details until after you got some comments.

                          Either way - I think both were wrong in their own way. But the diner more so.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            "No, I knew you were omitting details until after you got some comments."

                            I'm not sure if you're implying something I'm not inferring.

                            At any rate, I think the difference in our perspectives is that I am about efficiency, and my husband is about service. He doesn't like to feel rushed when he's dining out, whether it's the timing of the dishes, or the frequency of inquiries ("are you ready to order ?", "did you want anything else ?"), or the delivery of the final bill. I, on the other hand, prefer things to hum along. While I am slow to decide what I want, once I do, I'd like it to arrive in quick succession, and I want the server to stay on top of what else I want/need, by asking, if necessary. (Although, I do get annoyed when the bill arrives too soon - ie. before they ask if we want anything else.)

                            I was surprised that we had such opposing viewpoints on this, because I actually could not see where the servers did anything wrong. (They weren't the ones who seated her, after all.) And I couldn't help thinking that if I were one of those waiting parties, I would be seriously annoyed if I knew someone was monopolizing a table in that way.

                            1. re: dump123456789

                              No, no, no! By the way you wrote it, I knew there was a resolution or a final "what happened?" that you had left off so you could see what others thought before saying what you and your husband thought! That's all!

                              And yes - if I was a party of 4 waiting for a table, and I saw a single person sitting at a table for 4 (that I'm assuming remained set for 4 people - they didn't remove the other place settings), I'd be kind of ticked off that the table was going wasted while she waited for her dining companions.

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                For some reason, I didn't quite understand your sentence, so I was trying to ask in a humorous way by using $5 words. OK, maybe $2.

                                Yeah, I was trying not to bias people to agree with me or my husband right off. So, I avoided any facts that might tilt it one way or another, such as that her 2 friends actually arrived 40+ minutes after her, and that the 3 of them didn't order much (ie. less than my husband and I did) etc.

                                I'm still not sure why they didn't tell her to release the table after 20 minutes, or at most half an hour. I think maybe because she was older (60-something), and the young servers are from an ethnic group that gives special respect to the elderly, even when they "misbehave".

                                And "the table was going wasted" gets to my preference for efficiency. Had she released her table at 6:20, one of those other parties might have finished up before 7:30, and she and her friends could get another table whenever they arrived.

                                1. re: dump123456789

                                  That's the word - you were trying not to bias us with your opinions. You wrote what you observed, and allowed us to comment on it. I appreciated that.

                          2. re: dump123456789

                            "once they seated her, it was inappropriate of them to keep asking her every 5 minutes if she was going to order anything."

                            I have to respectfully disagree with this statement. When a restaurant seats you, they assume you are going to order something. Presumably that's why you're there. Otherwise, why are you taking up a table, especially when others are waiting? I don't think it's okay to tell the server "no, I'm not going to order anything now, and may not ever" and expect them to let you sit there indefinitely, regardless of the price point.

                            1. re: dump123456789

                              In a normal scenario, most diners would get annoyed if they were left alone for more than 15 minutes without any sort of inquiry about whether they are ready to order. Especially in this situation, someone could have called the lone diner to say they will be there in 5 minutes or that they won't be there for 20 so might as well order a few apps in the meantime. I know I've been in several situations where we'll wait 5-10 minutes for people to arrive and then if there are any late comers after that, we'll start to order appetizers/drinks.

                        2. I think if you've been waiting 15-20 minutes and no one has come, it's either time to order something or move to the bar to allow someone else to take the table. It sounds like she waited a full 45 minutes before anyone arrived, is that correct? I don't think there is anything wrong with a server telling the diner she either has to order or move to the bar after she reaches the 20-minute mark. I've been to a few places where your party has to be seated in 15 minutes or you have to order if you don't want to give up the table (as opposed to refusing to seat before the entire party has arrived). I think that's perfectly reasonable. It's not that hard to order a drink/app while you wait.

                          1. I can't imagine doing that. It's part of the self-entitlement some people have. What would she have done at 7:30 if none of her friends arrived? Just vacated? This reminds me of people who leave someone to hold a parking spot and don't show up for a long time. I'd never physically stand in a parking lot to begin with but to hold it for for some time is off the charts rude.

                            People do things like this which causes the restaurant to have some odd rules that other patrons then complain about.

                            1. The customer had some nerve and a serious set of brass ones. Given the info from the OP sounds like the only thing the restaurant did wrong was seating such a selfish and inconsiderate customer. If they were a little over attentive so what. Don't really see the issue here given with what they had to put up with.

                              it doesn't matter what the restaurant charges. The customer was planning on taking up a table for over an hour and a half and potentially not order anything.

                              I can't imagine holding a table of four for up to an hour and a half in case my other friends showed up. I certainly wouldn't tell the staff who are trying to make a living that I would not order anything unless they arrived. More to the point she knew the table was reserved for 7:30. If her friends arrived at 7:25 it sounded like she had no problems about remaining there and enjoying her dinner delaying the people who did reserve.

                              This 'lady' sounds like a real pice of work

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Withnail42

                                Indeed, this kind of entitlement is breathtaking to say the least. At this point I don't even think it's worth addressing whether the restaurant was right, but how we can stop this kind of person from happening or propagating.

                                1. re: Lizard

                                  it's easy - the restaurant says ' we will be happy to seat your party when they are all present'. This lady can then wait at the door, go for a cup of coffee if the resto has no bar, or go sit in her car/window shop. When her friends show up they can have dinner, in the meantime the server can fill his/her table with diners who will dine within the next few minutes.

                              2. Maybe the woman herself didn't know if any of her friends were coming? Seriously, she just sat there, waiting and waiting without making any attempt to find out where they were?? If I had a dinner date with friends and was holding a table and they were more than 20 minutes late, I would ask to borrow a phone so I could ring friends and 1) make sure they are ok and 2) find out how late they were so I could inform the server (and relinquish the table if need be).

                                The woman should have offered to give up the table when it became glaringly apparent that other complete parties were waiting. However, the restaurant should also have stepped in and said they could no longer hold the table for an incomplete party, esp since she refused to order anything and there were now several parties waiting. They could have politely asked her to wait by the hostess stand with the other patrons and that she and her party would be the next ones seated once everyone had arrived. I'm also surprised the patrons standing and waiting for a table didn't say anything to the hostess/manager.

                                1. "What are your opinions on
                                  [1] the diner holding the table with potentially no order
                                  [2] the servers repeatedly asking the diner to order ?"

                                  [1] there comes a time when it becomes inappropriate. From what you have said, she arrived sometime before 6.00 and her friends did not arrive until 6.40. By then it might have become inappropriate. However, you also say that, even by 7pm, the place was only half full, so there was absolutely no pressure for tables. So it might not have become inappropriate. In the event, no-one was denied a table; presumably no server lost tips; the woman and her friends had a nice get-together; the restaurant made profit. Seems everyone's a winner.

                                  [2] there comes a time when it becomes inappropriate. For me, that'd be after the first time I'd been asked and given an answer.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Harters

                                    The place was only half full at 7 because the empty tables were already spoken for by later reservations. (As I mentioned, it's the kind of place where people commonly arrive after 7 and then stay for a long time.) The tables meant for drop ins were already all taken, given that there were parties waiting, who were temporarily denied a table.

                                    1. re: dump123456789

                                      Ah, that's different then. You hadnt mentioned that others were somewhat inconvenienced by this woman's ludicrous and totally selfish attitude (along with the totally selfish attitude of her friends who had kept her waiting). Now I know the full story, I think they should have thrown her out after the first time she refused to order anything. And I'd make sure I got her name so I could put it in the little black book of names of those who we also refuse future reservations. What is the world coming to, when inconsiderate people like this are about?

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        This is exactly why so many restaurants have the rule that they won't seat you until the whole party is there. It's sad that common decency needs rules these days.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          And it's people that get their nose all out of joint when presented with this rule that are the worst offenders.

                                          1. re: purple bot

                                            The same ones get all bent out of shape when they have to leave a CC # that will be charged a fee in case they're a no-show...because they've made reservations at 4 different restaurants and decide which one to go to at the last minute...leaving the other three restaurants with an empty table.